The World's Most Dangerous Religion

I am sure that a person much more persuasive than I am could argue, somewhat convincingly, that human civilization was built on the power of ideas. Every major civilization that has ever existed on the face of this Earth had an intricate system of beliefs and rituals that defined day-to-day life, coordinated large-scale social interactions, and, last but not least, justified the existing power structures in the eyes of both rulers and subordinates.

Ideologies serve as a kind of mystical glue of the human substrate, holding together vast arrangements of people and directing them to a shared goal. They are uncannily similar to a mental virus. Like viruses they spread and, like viruses, they mutate and adapt. Not that they are all bad: humanity has had its fair share of dreadful ideologies, but some good has come out of this unique human capacity for fiction. The Enlightenment immediately comes to mind, as well as the moral teachings of Jesus and Confucius, who first enunciated the Golden Rule.

By and large, though, ideologies have been used for nefarious purposes, and have proved to be an unparalleled weapon in the hands of the people capable of wielding them. The modern world is no exception. In this age of science and technology, someone might be tempted to declare ideologies dead, or obsolete. Nothing could be farther from the truth, as in fact the world is now enveloped in what can be rightfully regarded as the most dangerous ideology in human history: free-market capitalism.

John Carpenter's They Live is a vivid representation of the new capitalist religion.

Note that I say the most dangerous, not the most vile or wicked, as that special spot in ideology hell probably belongs to Nazi-Fascism, which some regard as the natural evolution of a capitalism in crisis. As hideous and abhorrent as some of the ideologies of the past certainly were, they didn't put the whole of humanity (or at least civilization) at risk of extinction. This is what capitalism is doing right now under the incredulous eyes of the new generations that will have to deal with the consequences of total environmental collapse. The fanatic pursuit of profit is rapidly depleting natural resources, destroying entire ecosystems, and polluting the air by emission of greenhouse gases, all these things happening at once and at unprecedented rates.

Capitalism in its current incarnation is very similar to a religion, in that it has core tenets that are as irrational as the immaculate conception, but much more dangerous. The core belief of capitalism is that the best outcome for everyone is achieved through private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. There is something eerily Orwellian about this, as the central dogma of capitalism is a fulgid example of doublethink: "Selfishness is Altruism". In other words, if you just think about yourself, and don't give a damn about anyone else, the world will be a better place. We are only now slowly awakening from this fever dream to the harsh reality of a world that is quite literally dying because of our heinous faith. Nonetheless, the dogmas are upheld even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence, almost with blind fanaticism, by the religion's priests: economists.

The God of the new religion is Profit, but this is no God of love and mercy like in the New Testament. It's a God of Death, one that admits no other gods before itself, and is asking its faithful to perform the ultimate sacrifice. The consequences of this death cult are there for all to see. The ongoing Anthropocene extinction event is proceeding at a rate 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural background extinction rates, and is unquestionably a result of human activity. What's more, the death cult is threatening our own survival. If greenhouse emissions are not curbed, the Earth's temperature will increase by more than 5 degrees Celsius, according to the IPCC, by the year 2100. That's about twice the level that scientists regard as feasible for organized human life.

The people at the top of the hierarchy will gladly doom the entire human race because they will make more profit tomorrow. That is a level of criminality that is almost hard to describe, or comprehend, but we must try, in order to combat it. What we need to understand is that the entire capitalist system is geared towards maximizing short-term profit. Long-term effects of this practice are not considered, not even in principle; the system is completely blind to anything that falls outside the scope of the transaction. In simple terms, if you and I make a deal, we try to make the best deal for ourselves, and we should disregard the effects that our deal has on other people, or the environment.

This is the foul teaching of the new religion: to be utterly selfish, supremely self-centered, "don't care about others, because others will not care about you". Blessed be the egocentric, the ruthless, the vain. The religious practitioners of the Free Market follow the rituals without thinking, almost reflexively, not unlike the way rituals were followed in times past by countless other believers of countless other religions. The difference is that the strict adherence to the liturgy of capitalism is potentially world-ending.

What is the solution? When talking about the current state of capitalism, or any ideology for that matter, it is important to realize one thing: it is never about the individuals. Right now, the CEOs of the biggest banks and financial institutions have essentially two choices. They can seek to maximize profit and market share, and (consciously or unconsciously) labor to undermine the prospects for life on earth; or they can refuse to do so, and be removed and replaced by someone who will. This is an institutional problem, not an individual one.

The solution, therefore, is to bring to the attention of the masses the great dangers that we are facing, and be crystal clear on the culprit. The environment will recover only when we realize that our mode of production is deeply unsustainable. The Earth is not an infinite reservoir. The resources of our planet are finite, and should be treated with respect and devotion. Perhaps a new ideology that focuses on the balance with Nature is needed, but more realistically, if we just stop being apathetic and start caring about each other, I'm sure that will go a long way.

Now more than ever, our voices need to be heard. Things will change in the same way as it always happened in history, through collective effort. Educate, organize, mobilize and demonstrate. It's the only way.